Newsweek Publishes Disgraceful Article on Antioxidants (Action Alert)

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antioxidantsIn their January 25 issue, Newsweek published a scientifically unsupportable article, claiming that antioxidants “may not be good for your health.” We asked natural biomedical researcher and physician Jonathan Wright, MD, to comment—and he didn’t mince words!

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Here we go again. Another one-sided “mainstream media” attack on an aspect of natural healthcare, filled with to-be-expected misinformation, partial information, and—of course—no attempt at all to present both sides of the manufactured controversy. This time it’s Newsweek magazine, with an article entitled “Antioxidants Fall from Grace.”

The article starts with a “blog quote” from someone Newsweek has chosen as an “authority,” an individual identified as “British chemist and science writer David Bradley.” A bit odd that Newsweek couldn’t find a full professor who trashes antioxidants in a professional journal article, but that’s not the main point. The main point is that “science writer, chemist, and blogger” Bradley showed the same incomplete understanding of the function of antioxidants that many healthcare professionals have, writing in his blog: “It’s always struck me as odd that you would want to ingest extra antioxidants anyway, given that oxidizing agents are at the front-line of immune defense against pathogens and cancer cells….Suffice to say that taking antioxidant supplements…may not necessarily be good for your health if you already have health problems.”

Let’s review some basic definitions. As my chemistry professor, Louis Feiser of Harvard, told us, “oxidation” and “reduction” are two inseparable sides of the same coin. When a molecule loses electrons, it has been “oxidized”; when it gains electrons, it has been “reduced.” Since one molecule’s loss is always another molecule’s gain, the oxidation/reduction must always occur simultaneously, and the whole electron-exchange transaction is called a “redox reaction.”

The quote from blogger Bradley gives us the impression that “antioxidants” cancel “oxidizing agents” in a straight-line, one-on-one, hand-to-hand-combat manner. If this were true, his conclusion might make sense. But the truth—as often it is in nature—is more subtle. Dietary components presently termed “antioxidants” can work on both sides of the “redox reaction,” sometimes donating electrons, sometimes gaining them, as needed. To describe their functions more accurately, including both aspects of electron flow, antioxidants might best be termed “redox reaction regulators.”

Newsweek implies (accurately, in this instance) that “antioxidant” supplements are used to combat “free radicals,” molecules which have lost electrons (have been “oxidized”) and—in a manner of speaking—roam around the body stealing electrons back from other molecules in an indiscriminate manner, causing damage as a result. But while the Newsweek reporter writes that “free radicals are generated by normal metabolism, though dietary fat and iron-rich foods such as red meat generate more of them”—which is accurate as far as it goes—he either doesn’t know or simply omits the fact that free radicals are also generated in large excess by many things new to the human environment in just the last century and a half.

Some of these brand new inducers of “free radicals” in humans include very large excesses of sugar and refined carbohydrate, thousands of artificial “food chemicals,” flavorings, colorings, and preservatives, a historically very high dietary omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio (now at 20:1 for many of us, when throughout human history the ratio has been between 4:1 and 1:1), water chlorination and fluoridation, myriad electromagnetic fields never before experienced by human bodies—and those aren’t all. With the sum of these “free radical” inducers never before experienced by human bodies, it’s no wonder that many of us have turned to “redox reaction regulator” (“antioxidant”) supplements to help improve our chances of better long-term health.

This brings us to the next—and somewhat more prestigious—“authority” cited by Newsweek as questioning the use of “antioxidant” supplements, the UK-based Cochrane Collaboration. In a 2008 article, the Cochrane reviewers wrote: “We found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention, [and]Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality.”

But if we review flawed studies, our conclusions are quite likely to be flawed, too. Most of the studies of vitamin E reviewed used alpha-tocopherol only; in nature, alpha-tocopherol is never found alone, but always with varying quantities of beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherol. (Remember the media-trumpeted “vitamin E raises your risk of heart disease” study which used alpha-tocopherol only? More savvy researchers pointed out that use of alpha-tocopherol alone ultimately results in lowered levels of gamma-tocopherol, and the gamma form is more important to heart health.) Similarly, using beta-carotene alone in large quantities, without the alpha, gamma, and other carotenoids consistently found together in nature is also likely to cause problems, as is any one of the forms of vitamin A (such as retinal, retinoic acid, and retinol) without the others, and without the other substances such as (whole) vitamin E always found with vitamin A in nature.

With all due respect to the Cochrane Collaboration, which as an organization deliberately free of patent medicine company influence has published “the real scoop” on many patent medicines, their reviewers have not yet learned that—unlike patent medicines—most nutritional substances, including vitamins, were never intended (or created) to behave as individual “magic bullets,” but rather intended as parts of a coordinated natural complex in human bodies.

Newsweek concludes its article by referring to three recently published research articles on relatively obscure animal uses of “antioxidants.” In one done in rats, the researchers are misquoted as writing, “It is time to reevaluate the tumorigenic detrimental effect of ‘antioxidants’” (the Newsweek version), when what they actually wrote was, “It is time to reevaluate the tumorigenic detrimental effect of PAO [phyto-antioxidants], especially those exhibiting prooxidant bioactivity.”[1] The researchers recognized—and apparently Newsweek could or would not—that the plant materials they researched actually functioned as pro-oxidants and antioxidants—as termed above, “redox reaction regulators.”

Another study—a real stretch—reported that NF-E2-Related Factor 2 might promote atherosclerosis.[2] While possibly of future research interest, NF-E2-Related Factor 2 is produced by animal and human vascular cells, not generally a component of past or present human diets, and is very unlikely to go on sale as an “antioxidant” in our natural food or grocery stores!

But Newsweek outdoes itself with their third example of the “dangers of antioxidants.” The implications of the excited introductory sentence are clear: “A paper to appear in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that antioxidants might impair fertility.” Why, antioxidants might make you sterile! Now let’s read what the researchers wrote: “Our experiments show that administration of broad-range scavengers of oxidative species into the ovarian bursa of mice, hormonally induced to ovulate, significantly reduced the rate of ovulation.”[3]

Are any of you ladies likely to inject broad-range scavengers of reactive oxygen species into your ovaries? And, tell us, which broad-range scavengers? One of the two “antioxidants” injected into the mouse ovaries is actually natural, and even found in natural food stores. [It’s also mentioned in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR), an unlikely target for Newsweek.] It’s N-acetylcysteine, which the PDR accurately reports will raise glutathione levels, not at all a bad thing, but of course injecting it into one’s ovaries isn’t usually the way it’s taken as a supplement. N-acetylcysteine also has other entirely non-antioxidant actions, such as binding zinc—essential, along with folate and vitamin B12 to DNA replication, and fertility—and copper, so not using N-acetylcysteine if you’re trying to get pregnant is a actually a good idea. Low levels of zinc have been linked—just as are low levels of folate and vitamin B12—with spina bifida and birth defects, too. But these effects have nothing at all to do with any “antioxidant” effect.

Perhaps the second antioxidant injected into the mouse ovaries is a better example. What was it? Why, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) a waxy solid used as a food additive, which according to a National Institutes of Health report is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. When administered as part of their diet, BHA causes papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas of the forestomach in rats and Syrian golden hamsters. In this case, I agree with Newsweek: don’t go buy BHA to inject into your ovaries! This particular “antioxidant” is likely dangerous!

So much for the attempted—but clearly failed—Newsweek “hatchet job” against “antioxidants.” In addition to the quote by the British scientist, chemist, and blogger David Bradley, who appears to have limited understanding of “antioxidants,” there is the admirable—but doomed to failure—attempt by the Cochrane Collaboration reviewers to make good science out of bad, and the three rather ludicrous references to studies of possibly “pro-oxidative antioxidants,” NF-E2-Related factor 2, butylated hydroxyanisole, and N-acetylcysteine. That’s the sum of Newsweek’s “evidence.”

But there is something to be learned about “antioxidant” supplementation, in addition to the possibility that a more accurate name for them would be “redox reaction regulators,” since they help regulate both the subtraction (“oxidation”) and addition (“reduction”) of electrons. But that’s for the technically inclined. The very practical thing for all of us to learn is that like most other nutrients, so-called antioxidants occur in groups in nature, and very rarely “all by themselves.” (Vitamin C is an exception, and very likely vitamin D, but that’s a discussion for another time.) So as our bodies are also (meant to be) natural, the antioxidants we put into our bodies should be in nature’s groupings. Whole foods are the best places to get them, and if in addition we use supplements, there are any number of “mixed greens” powders and capsules (for carotenoids), as well as “mixed berry” powders (for flavonoids).

If we’re taking individual vitamins, use all forms of each vitamin in its natural pattern—mixed tocopherols, mixed carotenoids, B-complex, and so on. If you’re not sure of the safety of a particular supplement—even though the Association of American Poison Control Centers 2008 report [4] noted that not even one death from use of vitamins, minerals, or botanical supplements for that entire year—check with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine. And lastly, for likely the next decade at least, be very skeptical of “health advice” offered by Newsweek or any of the “mainstream” media, particularly if it’s about the natural approach to healthcare.

—Jonathan Wright, MD

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Jonathan V. Wright, MD, is the founder and medical director of Tahoma Clinic in Renton, Washington. With degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan, Dr. Wright has been at the forefront of natural biomedical research and treatment since 1973 and has written many best-selling books including Your Stomach, published by Praktikos Books. Dr. Wright’s newsletter, Nutrition & Healing, is published monthly by Healthier News, L.L.C., 702 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201. To subscribe, go to www.tahomaclinic.com.



[1] Hsieh CL, Peng CC, et al. “Quercetin and Ferulic Acid Aggravate Renal Carcinoma in Long-Term Diabetic Victims.” J Agric Food Chem, July 29, 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

[2] Berenice Barajas, Nam Che, et al.NF-E2–Related Factor 2 Promotes Atherosclerosis by Effects on Plasma Lipoproteins and Cholesterol Transport That Overshadow Antioxidant Protection.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 31:58-66

[3] Shkolnik K, Tadmor A, et al. “Reactive oxygen species are indispensable in ovulation. Published online before print, January 10, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017213108 PNAS January 10, 2011

[4] Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR Jr, et al. “2008 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 26th Annual Report.” Clinical Toxicology 47:911-1,084.


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  • Laura

    This is a funny article–my dog, Baby, was cured from cancer on antioxidants, building of immune system, and the vet who prescribed them for her….I don’t think this “doctor”s” column will be of much harm. Everyone knows different…..(I’m still laughing, injecting into a mouse’s ovaries, and that’s how it’s judged)…

  • Laura

    Meaning the vet whoi cured Baby, was also cured this way!!!!!!!!!! Go back to your practice, doctor, and stop filling folks’ heads with nonsense…Thanks

    • Robert

      Did you read the article. Dr.Wright was replying to the nonsense that Newsweek published. Maybe you should try some of the antioxidants that Baby took.

  • Marilyn

    Newsweek is selling magazines and articles are not always well researched. We can read other data that debunks most of the Catchy Magazine articles. Antioxidants are vital to human’s well being. With polution, bad water treatment, “old” veggies and fruits in stores, etc., humans may not live longer taking supplements but quality of whatever life will be improved.

  • R Prasad

    If the Antioxidants may not be good for your health, that means only oxidized foods are healthy according to Big Pharma funded through its paid puppet NewsWeek. Let them sell oxidized foods and drugs and see who will buy them and die!

  • When one sees this kind of information, one needs to consider the source: Newsweek? Time? Business Week? Aren’t they all owned by Fox News now?

    • jackflintsone

      Time and Newsweek owned by Fox? Get a grip. If they were they wouldn’t be failing as bad as they are.

  • Judy

    Over the last ten years or so there has been so much information published about the good of antioxidents, hopefully this idiot article won’t have much effect.

  • Dr. Wright has such a long history of making sense and doing good!
    I am grateful to him.
    Dr. Young

  • Charles

    Thank-you for a very informative and insightful article.

  • Jay

    …..WHICH antioxidant was injected? There are sooooo many and they are all soooo not alike.
    Thorough reporting Newsweek!!!!!! (and very lame reporting too)
    I should send them a bill for consuming my time needlessly making me ready that nonsense.

  • Jay

    read*

    Not ready

  • “I fights to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach!” Popeye had it right, didn’t he?
    Personally, I prefer berries, lots of them. I eat at least one serving of berries every day.
    I appreciate Dr. Wright’s in-depth response to the Newsweek article. Thanks!

  • Colleen

    Why do you speak tlies about healthy items like vitamins and antioxidants? Yet regarding all of the medications and over-the-counter drugs that harm or kill people, you say nothing. That’s where you should be focusing on, not on health items that have been proven to do a person good.

  • Regina

    Keep yer cotton-pickin’ talons off my blueberries! (No, I don’t inject them into my ovaries.)

  • Helga

    I disregard most of what Newsweek prints…afterall they named Cuba a top “quality of life” winner!

  • Jennifer

    I think that this type of “propaganda” comes out because these companies are starting to feel the pinch as a result of so many people getting educated as to REAL FOODS and the damage that’s been done to people for so many years now with processed foods, that they are lashing out trying to save their “bottom line” with fear mongering lies, half-truths, and bad science.

    I encourage everyone to continue “getting educated” about what’s being done to our food supply today and being open to the truth about what this has been doing to the health of people for over 50 years now. The pendulum is swinging!!!!

  • JadeQueen

    Plants often have balancing components which allow them to function as adaptogens. They needed to coexist with animals in nature, so this makes sense.

    Symptom-suppressing pharmaceuticals frequently produce side effects which can be deadly before other medications are added to deal with the side effects.

    Significant numbers of U.S. people use plants as medicine. A number of books have sold very well which discuss all this. Consequently, it must have been quite a stretch to find someone to write an article like this one.

    It will be interesting to see what feedback Newsweek gets on this and how they handle follow-up. It may depend on the characteristics of their subscriber/reader base.

  • JOHN BROWN

    I’m sure NEWSWEEK was paid off in the form advertising money for this article. To show you how STUPID they are– They are taking a BRIBE to help KILL themselves and their family members. 75% of the population of the earth has never taken a PHARMACEUTICAL MEDICINE or treated by a western doctor yet they live long healthy lives . We on the other hand, are dying by the millions from these things they call medicine. Statin drugs get into the liver and kill us . Magnesium will controll high blood pressure– niacin or polysacronal or chinese red yeast rice will controll Cholesterol , and lecithin will clear your arteries so you won’t have to undergo bypass surgery and take the chance of dying on the table. I won’t even the people dying from such things as Vioxx, avandia and tylenol. these moron doctors give people antibiotics for sinus infections which are caused by viruses not germs when antibiotics will only kill germs and not harm viruses . What’s the use these people are so stupid they will take a bribe to kill themselves for big pharma. HYDROGEN PEROXIDE is the Greatest medicine KNOWN -IT IS your immune system. LOOK IT UP ON YOUR COMPUTER!!!!

  • Garrett Sullivan

    My apologies to you David Bradley, this letter was a bit harsh. It’s not so much that “antioxidants are bad for you,” but it is somewhat true in that one needs a prooxidative trigger to get the redox interplay started. The question is rather about where one turns to find the electrons to thereby become reduced? The interplay is about electron saturation vs. desaturation as much as oxidation vs. reduction. Let’s get the system charged and rolling–and chewing up everything in it’s wake!

  • The Newsweek article is a pharma-inspired piece of propaganda.

    I think you give too much credit to Newsweek by even answering the diatribe.

    Let’s see … who paid for that article?

    What’s in it for Newsweek?

    Why would they stoop to ruining people’s health with outright lies?

    What are the pharmaceutical connections of Newsweek and its editors?

  • JoeRad

    I have little regard for Newsweek or the MSM in general. We have been lied to for so long with the complicity of the USDA, FDA, AMA and on. This is not to say that no good at all comes from these sources but rather that when good information is mixed with exaggerations, ommisions, deceits and corporate complicity, it must be picked apart to get at the truth. And one better have the background and intelligence to be able to do this or best to go to more reliable sources.

    Thank you for this excellent analysis of another Newsweek disinformation article. I just subscribed to your newsletter.

    As for Laura above, could someone interpret her remarks for me. They are very confusing and, quite frankly, I don’t know what she was trying to say nor to whom she was referring.

  • Vicki Barker

    I forwarded Dr. Wright’s rebuttal article to Newsweek’s article to Facebook with the following added comment: Dear Newsweek, If you cannot take the time to research your articles before publishing them, perhaps the Federal Trade Commission should fine YOU for making unfactual health claims just as they are unjustly fining nutritional doctors and nutritional supplement companies for merely suggesting that a product is beneficial. The FTC targets them for simply providing information on scientific research saying that they are beneficial. According to the FTC, they are guilty by “inferring” a products benefits!

  • Bonnie Camo MD

    A “chemist” in Britain is a pharmacist, not someone with a degree in chemistry, so David Bradley is even less qualified than it would seem from that title.

  • Joe

    I’m sorry but your post shows not only a closed mind but a tragic lack of knowledge. For starters, thinking you can cure cancer with antioxidants is rather absurd. I agree that they may help PREVENT diseases (eg cancer), but you cannot “cure” them that way. Actually, you can’t really “cure” most if not all cancers, period. Not yet anyway.

    Second, even if your claim was accurate, that is one example and by itself proves little if anything.

    Third, testing on animals has been a sad but very effective way to test things and has helped us further our medical knowledge a GREAT deal, so sneering at that speaks for itself. What would you instead suggest? We just go straight to testing on people?

    Look I’m not saying everything in the article was right or wrong. What I did take away from this is that not all antixoidants are the same or do the same things, good or bad, and unlike many, I realize things like this are complex and that we all have a lot to learn about it. I suggest an open mind, even though I know that’s radical in this day and age.

    • Kelli

      Apparently you’ve never done your research. But that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for ignorance.
      Actually many cancers are completely treatable through major diet change and detoxing. Really go look it up.

      But seriously, that Newsweek article was nothing but Big Pharma propaganda meant as a move against natural health, but since its mainstream media I’m not surprised.

    • Dennis Jay

      I have been a subscriber to Dr. Wright’s news letter and learn even more now from his reply to the Newsweek article. Thank you Dr. Wright. To Joe I wish you to check out this article titled “Genetic Evidence That Antioxidants Can Help Treat Cancer” at http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/573327/ released: 2/10/2011 12:40 PM EST. There are other articles as well as practitioners out there who control and cure cancer using antioxidant along with other modalities. It is best to keep an open mind and educate yourself.

  • Scott

    Certain antioxidants can send cancer in remission and have many times over in lab animals. It’s usually not due to their antioxidant effect, though, and it depends completely on the type of cancer and the mechanism of action of the antioxidant in question.

  • Tricia

    I hate these animal experiments – they are as ridiculous as they are unnecessary. Can you imagine what it is like to have this stuff injected directly into your ovaries? And after being manipulated to ovulate hormonally? These researchers lack no imagination when it comes to torturing animals. And, as the article points out, how relevant are these machinations to humans? The reason they are supposedly doing this in the first place.

  • I have news for you Joe: You CAN cure most, if not all, cancers. Just not with the failed paridigm of hugely profitable but largely ineffectual mainstream cancer treatments which try to cut out, poison out or burn out the symptoms of cancer without addressing the root causes that enabled it to gain a foothold in the first place. Antioxidants can play essential roles in both beating and avoiding cancer. And other natural cancer-fighting and immune boosting items can play a greater role still.

    The attack on antioxidants is nothing new. We have seen attacks on vitamins, minerals and other natural items too. A patiend cured or a disease prevented is a customer lost when it comes to mainstream drugs and medical treatments. And Newsweek has not been called “an attack dog for big drug companies” for nothing.

    I guess you have to keep your advertising bosses appeased and pull ridiculous publicity stunts when your circulation is in freefall (dropping from 4 million to 2.7 million the past seven years) and the value of your company has plummeted to the point that it sold this past August to the highest of three bidders for a grand total of one dollar. Which is nevertheless a dollar more valuable than the misinformation in the hatchet job article on antioxidants.

  • Paleo Huntress

    I think it’s important to note that this isn’t a slam against whole foods that naturally contain anti-oxidants, but one against bottled antioxidants in massive doses. “Natural” doesn’t mean bottled– it means eating whole food. ~Huntress

  • SE

    (This brings us to the next—and somewhat more prestigious—“authority” cited by Newsweek as questioning the use of “antioxidant” supplements, the UK-based Cochrane Collaboration. In a 2008 article, the Cochrane reviewers wrote: “We found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention, [and] Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality.”)

    Whaaat? Oh, Geez! Really? Put down the carrot and back away slowly.

  • For one right off the bat to me testing on animals is really stupid. Test on each other for that way you will know for sure if it works or not, Animals can’t speak for them self so that makes you feel good and more superior over them JERK. I take supplements ever day the only reason these big pharmacuials are doing this is because of the money. They are greedy. Go bother other people who can’t afford there meds now thanks to all of you. So go away and be a pest some where else.

  • Lets have article in Newsweek please on the health dangers and damage done to people who take over counter regular medication….oh sorry that wont happen as they are products of the large drug companies…..Its all about making profits for the big companies not about what is in the interest of the commom man/woman’s health.

  • This is not the first time David Bradley has attacked herbs and natural meds. He even DENIES attacking herbs!

    —> David does not think that Aloe Vera is good anti-inflammatory or has reasons why it soothes cuts and sunburns. (via http://www.sciencebase.com/science-blog/10-herbal-remedies-cohosh-or-tosh.html )

    Scientific Evidence? “Burns healed faster with Aloe Vera gel than using a vaseline gauze. 12 days versus 18 days on 27 patients.” – Visuthikosal V, Chowchuen B, Sukwanarat Y, Sriurairatana S, Boonpucknavig V, Dept of Surgery, faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

    Wound healing effective with aloe vera – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2341661 (after dermabrasion of face), and in mice http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8169808 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2607423 (mice)

    –> David does not think that Black Cohosh reduces menopause symptoms.

    Black Cohosh (not to be mistaken with Blue Cohosh) possesses a central activity through serotonergic or dopaminergic pathways, instead of a hormonal effect. 2 trials have examined the effects of Black Cohosh on Tamoxifen-induced hot flashes and the decline in hot flashes was 27%… (appeared in book, “Herb, Nutrient and Drug Interactions”, by Mitchell Bebel Stargrove).

    A 20-year-old study comprising of 10 randomized, controlled (eight placebo controlled), double-blind clinical trials were conducted for Black Cohosh. It involved a total of 1,581 women, and three placebo-controlled (double-blind clinical trials) of 329 men were conducted. The pilot trials proved that Black Cohosh decreased hot flashes in both men and women. Ref: Department of Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA

    Black Cohosh also appeared to be more effective when ingested with red clover, American Ginseng and other herbs. Ref:
    Hot flushes ceased completely in 47% of women in the study group compared with only 19% in the placebo group. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=17454163&dopt=Abstract

    And so on!

  • Thanks for another excellent post. The place else could anybody get that type of information in such a perfect manner of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such info.

  • Rob

    I am seeing a growing trend in mainstream media against any form of natural health or therapy. I think it is good to point out that this article was only created to generate hype and much comment – as demonstrated on this website. For Newsweek, regardless of whether the article was factual or not, they achieved their goal – get tongues wagging. Sad, really…